The holy city of Teotihuacan ('the place where the gods were created') is situated some 50 km north-east of Mexico City. Built between the 1st and 7th centuries A.D., it is characterized by the vast size of its monuments – in particular, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, laid out on geometric and symbolic principles. As one of the most powerful cultural centres in Mesoamerica, Teotihuacan extended its cultural and artistic influence throughout the region, and even beyond.
Pyramid of the Sun
© Sacred Sites / Martin Gray
Tthe archaeological site of Teotihuacan corresponds to a city of at least 25,000 inhabitants. Teotihuacan and its valley bear unique testimony to the pre-urban structures of ancient Mexico. The influence of the first of the great Mesoamerican Classic civilizations was exerted over the whole of the central region of Mexico, in Yucatan and as far away as Guatemala (the site of Kaminaljuvu) between AD 300 and 600.
Lining the immense Avenue of the Dead, the unique group of sacred monuments and places of worship at Teotihuacan (Pyramids of the Sun, the Moon and Quetzalcoatl and Palaces of Quetzalmariposa, Jaguars, Yayahuala and others) constitutes an outstanding example of a pre-Columbian ceremonial centre.
This ensemble represents a unique artistic achievement as much for the enormous size as for the strictness of a layout based on cosmic harmony. The art of the Teotihuacanos was the most developed among the Classic civilizations of Mexico. Here it is expressed in its successive and complementary aspects: the dry and obsessive geometry of the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon contrasts with the sculpted and painted decor of exceptional richness of the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent.
Located 48 km north-east of Mexico City, Teotihuacan is one of the oldest known archaeological sites in Mexico. The first surveys date from 1864, and the first excavations from 1884. Certain monuments were restored in 1905-10, such as the Pyramid of the Sun, for which its discoverer Leopoldo Batres arbitrarily reconstituted a fifth tier. Since 1962, archaeological research has been coordinated by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia which, while encouraging spectacular discoveries (Palacio de Quetzalmariposa, the cave under the Pyramid of the Sun), has instigated a more rigorous policy concerning identification and supervision of excavations in the immediate environs of the ceremonial zone.
Although human occupation of the valley of Teotihuacan began before the Christian era, it was only between the 1st and the 7th centuries AD that the Teotihuacanos settled in concentrated numbers on the present site and gradually built up a holy city of impressive dimensions. The city was razed by fire and subsequently abandoned during the 7th century.
The location of the first sanctuary, the Pyramid of the Sun (built on a cave discovered in 1971), was calculated on the position of the Sun at its zenith, and applied astronomical logic determined the organization of the space: the Avenue of the Dead was drawn out perpendicularly to the principal axis of the solar temple. The Pyramid of the Moon, to the north the 'Citadel' and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl to the south-east became one by one the borders of a processional avenue 40 m wide and 2 km long.
At the peak of its development (the archaeologists' period of Teotihuacan III, from c. AD 300-600), the city stretched out over 36 km2. Outside the ceremonial centre, which, despite its imposing size, represents only 10% of the total surface, excavations have revealed palaces and residential quarters that are of great interest at Tetitla, Atetelco, Yayahuala and Zacuala to the west, and Xolalpan, Tepantitla and others to the east. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC